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When the final horn sounded at the Coliseum last weekend, Stafon Johnson had barely enough time to think about what just happened.
The sophomore tailback had just finished his first significant game as a Trojan and after splitting most of the carries with fellow sophomore C.J. Gable, it was Johnson who attracted the most attention after the game.
He finished his breakout performance with 12 carries, 64 yards, and his first two touchdowns as a Trojan. Yep, all in a day’s work for one half of the team’s new two-headed tailback threat.
This is what Johnson had looked forward to since he signed his name on the dotted line back in 2005. A chance to prove himself on the same field another Dorsey High alum with the same last name did over a decade ago.
And while he didn’t dominate like Keyshawn Johnson did, he and Gable, along with Joe McKnight set the tone for the Trojans’ offense with their powerful running attack.
Afterwards, Johnson took it all in stride, from answering questions on the field to the handshakes from loyal fans and all the way up to his first post-game press conference where he tried to put this long-awaited, but expected moment into words.
“I don’t really rate it that high,” he said when evaluating his performance Saturday, “I’m still in a process of improvement.”
On the surface, he was focused and level-headed, but inside, you can tell he was smiling. At his locker, he finally expressed the feelings he had waited two years to say.
“It feels good to finally get on the field. It’s been a long time but I’m on now,” he said.
His coach, Pete Carroll, knew that this moment was coming as well and he couldn’t have been prouder that the fans finally got to recognize what he had known all along.
“I’m really pleased that he got to show what he’s been showing on the practice field and in camp,” Carroll said, “He’s going to be a really good football player for us.”
It was a far cry from last year, when he spent his freshman campaign on the sidelines and on the scout team.
Last year, he would’ve just changed clothes in the locker room and chatted on the side with teammates. But on Saturday night, that post-game shower had to wait as he had to address reporters waiting for him.
For Trojan fans, they finally saw exactly what Johnson had done for three years as an All-American running back at Dorsey that, according to the Cal-Hi Sports record book, rushed for the second most yards in the City Section.
“I had to show people that L.A. is still my city and I haven’t left it,” he said.
His family and friends watched from the stands with plenty of pride but there was one person who was watching from a different view.
The home opener was the first game that his grandfather, Larry Mallory, was not present for, having passed away from a heart attack last spring. Known affectionately as “Big Dad,” he always supported Johnson, even when he struggled through a difficult freshman year.
Even though Mallory is now watching his grandson from above instead of the stands, Johnson continues to seek inspiration from him every day.
“Words cannot explain how he helps me to fight day in and day out,” he said.
That was the theme of the night; trying to fully explain a moment that was a long time coming.
But with a long season ahead, Johnson knows that there are bigger goals than just gaining yards on the field. One great performance is only a stepping stone, not a peak.
“My main goal is to get better as a whole football player,” he said, referring to doing a better job on pass protection. “I have to keep going and keep raising my ceiling.”
There will be more great moments down the road, but right now, Stafon Johnson is focused on making his mark one game and one carry at a time.